Nestled between Cuyamaca State Park and the southern section of Anza Borrego State Park is a nice trek along the Pedro Fages Trail. As we pulled off the road and read the trail marker, I tried to visualize the path that the Native Americans and later the Europeans took as they made their way through Oriflamme Canyon. The trail starts on the Sunset Highway (S1) near the junction of Hwy 79 at Cuyamaca Lake. The California Riding and Hiking Trail which actually starts near Otay Lake in southern San Diego County passes through Cuyamaca and through this area toward Chillihua Valley.
What makes this hike enjoyable are the wide open views as you start out in Mason Valley. One of the things that amazes me about southern California is the diversity of the land. Sure, it is dry and rocky in most areas, but you will find contrast all around. Today, the deep blue sky with scattered clouds was set apart from the rocky terrain of the Laguna Mountains.
The single track trail with wide open vistas made you want to run, but I’m a hiker not a runner. The breeze from the Anza-Borrego Desert made the dry grasses wave in unison. It was tempting to lie down in the meadow and just watch the cloud formations, but we had a goal today. We would hit the junction with the PCT and see how far we would go.
After 1.5 miles, you come to a Jeep trail. Out here they call them truck roads, but they’re mostly service roads for the USFS. Turn right, go through a gate and you will see small signs for the PCT. Turn right and you’ll follow the PCT to Mexico. A little farther up on the left is a battered sign for my favorite trail north. My wife and I talked about setting up some trail magic near here for the PCT class of 2015. Hmm, we will have to see. I’ve always had thoughts about becoming a trail angel. People who bring drinks, food to PCT thru-hikers are trail angels and the stuff they provide is trail magic. It’s an awesome way to bless people when they least expect it.
The trail has been fairly level to this point but as you follow it east-northeast it begins to drop into the canyon. It appears to descend around 800-1,000 ft. This is a very quiet hike through here, the only sounds are aircraft passing by and the fluttering birds. It’s definitely one of the trails less travelled. We were not exactly thrilled about hiking down and then having to hike back up at the end, but sometimes it is just what you have to do.
At the bottom of the canyon is another Jeep trail and the PCT hikers will take a right and walk along the road before bearing left 1/4 mile up. We took our lunch break at the bottom on a couple of boulders and took our shoes and socks off to cool down. It’s always a good idea to remove the boots/shoes on a warm hike. Helps to cut down on the blisters. A rare patch of cool, green grass made it even more inviting. A cool creek or mountain stream would have been perfect, but we are in the desert of So-Cal.
The hike up was a tough climb, and I must have left my trail legs in the Sierras because my calves were complaining. This would be a hot hike in late spring, summer and not recommended. Back at the main fire road, we noticed a Forest Service or Cal-Fire concrete water tank. On top was a steel lid to the inside. Unfortunately, it was empty but it sure would make a nice sleeping bunker on a cold night.
After the leg workout, the valley and meadow was a nice way to finish the out and back hike. About 200 yards out, a lone coyote trotted by. I tried howling at him, but my throat was parched and all that came out was a failed attempt of a silly human trying to make an animal sound. He did glance over at us and barely slowed down.
Today’s out and back to the PCT was a solid 6 miles. It was good to be back on the trail with my hiking partner. This trail didn’t have the best vistas, but any day that you can hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail is a good day. Thanks for stopping by my blog and remember to take the 10 Essentials when you trek into the backcountry.
- Navigation (map and compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter